On CBC Radio October 5th 1979 Historian Norman Creighton gave this account on his Radio Talk Show.
THE SAXBY GALE
Oddly enough, it hardly affected Nova Scotia's Atlantic coast - the South shore and the Eastern shore, but confined itself to communities along New Brunswick's Fundy coast - and the inner reaches of Minas Basin and Chignecto Bay.
No one really knows how many lives were lost in that gale. In the churchyard at Hillsborough, in Albert County (N.B.) is a whole section of tombstones raised to the victims of the Saxby "tide", as some called it, because it was the phenomenal tide that accounted for most of the casualties. Farmers had gone down to the marshes, in an attempt to lead their livestock to safety, and then the dykes broke, and they were swept away by a great tidal wave.
It was called the Saxby gale because of a certain Lieutenant Saxby, a young officer in the Royal Navy who was also an amateur astronomer. Lieutenant Saxby had written a letter to the London Times almost ten months before this happened warning that in October of the coming year, the position of the moon in relation to other heavenly bodies, would cause a gale of immense and devastating force He even fortold the day - October 5th.
Most of those who read Lieutenant Saxby's prediction - and it was widely reprinted in American and Canadian newspapers - dismissed the warning, pointing out that gales often did occur in October. It was almost a foregone conclusion that a gale would occur somewhere in the world, and Lieutenant Saxby hadn't said where this one would strike.
But a gale did strike, on the evening of October 4th, 1869. The weather that afternoon had given no cause for uneasiness. The day dawned without the slightest sign of anything unsual, or foreboding. Along the New Brunswick coast, .from St.Stephen to Saint John, water lapped gently against the wharf pilings, under a blanket of fog, which later cleared, giving way to a warm sunny morning. A perfect Autumn day.
Then, about noon, at the entrance to Yarmough (N.S.) harbour, whitecaps began to appear, while a light breeze from the southwest gathered strength. As the afternoon advanced, the breeze increased steadily, while the heat became oppressive. Out by Yarmouth lighthouse, or at The Churn, on the way to Cape Forchu, you could hear the waves beginning to boom. Soon the michaelmas daisies were wet with drifting spray. Toward the south, the sky loomed dull and leaden, growing darker as the afternoon wore on, with the rising wind riding the sky on a witches'-broom of scudding storm clouds. By five o'clock the wind reached hurricane force. By six, trees were falling, as if felled by an axe. By nine o'clock the raging, terrifying Saxby Gale was at its height.
We, today, can have no idea how frightening this gale must have seemed, to people cut off and alone, with no means of communicating with their neighbours - no telephone, no radio, no electric light to snap on. Many homes without even a kerosene lamp and hard enough to keep a candle burning in the drafty rooms.
One man described it like this: "The extreme darkness, the constant roar and tumult of wind, the lashing rain, the groaning of great trees, the hail of debris, shingles, branches, objects large and small, falling everywhere, roofs carried aloft, whole buildings collapsing, all gave a paralyzing sense of insecurity and calamity."
At St. Andrews (N.B.) 123 vessels were tossed up onto the beach -- a barque named the Genii was sunk at Lepreau with the loss of eleven lives [note, these men were from the area, among them was two McVicar brothers from Mascarene shore, the barque was named GENIL, she smashed at Lepreau]. On Campobello Island (Charlotte County), wind and tide destroyed over 80 buildings -- the roof of the Volunteer Armoury in St. George (N.B.) was carried 100 yards by the wind. In St. Stephen a man was picked up by the wind, carried across the street, and deposited on the other sidewalk.
As the gale raced up the Bay of Fundy it swept the water on ahead and forced it into the inner bays and inlets - into Shepody Bay and Cumberland Basin and Minas Basin (N.S.).
In the town of Annapolis (N.S.), water was knee-deep on Lower St.George Street. At Grand Pre (N.S.) it breached the Great Horton Dyke, flooding 3,000 acres, and drowning herds of cattle. Windsor's Water Street was like a canal in Venice, and the Windsor Baptist Church had seven feet of water in the vestry.
At Moncton (N.B.), at the foot of South King Street, the tide rose nine feet over the Harris wharf up onto the warehouses, destroying supplies of salt, flour and other perishables. If you're driving through Moncton you can see a marker at Boreview Park, along with a plaque indicating the height of the tide, just before midnight, on that fateful 4th and 5th of October, 1869.
The greatest destruction of all took place on the Tantramar Marshes (border between N.B. & N.S.). Cattle and sheep were still out to pasture, and as the wind rose to gale force, they huddled in the lee of the many hay stacks and hay barns that dotted the marshes, well-protected, it seemed by the outer dykes 25 feet high.
Some owners, however, grew worried and decided to go out and inspect their hay barns only to discover that the dykes were crumbling. A great tidal wave inundated the Tantramer Marshes sweeping before it a churning floatsam of hay barns and hay stacks and struggling animals. Some of the men lost their lives.
One, a man from Minudie
Point (N.S. side), had taken refuge in a barn. The barn
was soon swept away but somehow he managed to clamber up on a haystack
that came floating by, and on this hastily improvised Kon Tiki,
he floated up towards Amherst. Then to his consternation
he found his floating haystack turning with the tide and heading out to
sea. It looked as if all was lost, for the haystack was gradually
subsiding under his weight when, just as he'd given up hope,
it struck the submerged top of a dyke, and stayed there.
That man, from then on, always gave his cattle plenty